Is a lifting belt going to make me much stronger? Is it cheating, and will wearing one weaken my core? When should you start using a lifting belt?
If you are into strength training, a belt should be used to enhance performance and reduce injury risk. We delve into what a belt does and who should be using one.
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When Should You Use A Belt When Lifting?
Firstly, it is important to clarify the purpose of a lifting belt. Lifting belts are used in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and maximal strength training. People often think a belt is used to protect a lifter's back.
When worn properly, a belt is actually reinforcing a proper brace and working with our core muscles to create more pressure.
This pressure is called intra-abdominal pressure and is a crucial aspect of weight training.
We require pressure around our abdomen to create more stability in order to help protect our spine and lift more optimally.
The belt works as our core muscles have something to push against, and the effect of that is creating more stability in the torso.
By pushing against the belt, the pressure is higher than if you were to just contract your abdominal muscles.
A lifting belt is, therefore, more effective because it reduces the risk of injury and helps enforce proper form.
Lifting belts can be used by both men and women, considering the width of the belt is important as comfort is required to get the most out of a belt. Generally, women will need a belt that is smaller in width and length.
But what does this mean for the recreational gym goer who just wants to get a little stronger and feel healthy? When should you use a lifting belt?
If someone is training for maximal strength or specific strength sports, then it is necessary to wear it when lifting. If someone is training for general strength, a belt is not necessarily needed, but someone can choose to wear one.
The main lifts when a belt is required are squatting, deadlift, and overhead pressing. A belt should not be used when using free weights or machines because we don't require assistance in creating stability; our core should be working hard to build strength during these types of exercises.
When performing a squat and deadlift, a belt should be used when you are going above a certain intensity threshold, which means your form could break down, exposing you to potential injury. There is no definitive point where you should be using a lifting belt; it is very much up to the lifter to decide when.
A lifting belt should not be relied on because we still want to build a strong core, so it shouldn't be used with lighter weights.
Generally speaking, you do not want to rely on a belt, and lifters should start thinking about using one when core strength is the limiting factor and not larger muscles in your legs and back.
Related Article - What Size Lifting Belt Should I Get?
Who Should Use A Lifting Belt?
People starting out in weight training do not need to be concerned with using a lifting belt. A belt only needs to be worn when performing heavy lifts or high volume lifts in the squat, deadlift, and overhead press movements.
A beginner will not be lifting heavy enough in the beginning to require the use of a belt. The focus for a beginner needs to be on correct movement patterns, balance, and how to breathe and brace correctly.
They should be learning to use their core and back muscles and train to build strength in these areas.
You need a belt when you start to become more experienced and your training goal is maximal strength. After training for a few months without one to properly use your core and learn the basics, a lifter may want to consider a belt.
Lifting weights relative to body weight is a good marker of when someone should start using a belt. Starting to use a belt will depend on the person, but usually, once you're able to lift 1-1.5x bodyweight, you are lifting heavy enough to get benefits from using one.
Advanced lifers should be using belts when they go above 80% of their 1 rep max (1RM) in a squat or deadlift, or they are doing high volume at heavier weights when their form is likely to start to break down.
It is a very individualized decision on when the lifter starts wearing one in training, and some prefer to train heavier without the use of a belt. There are no specific rules on when an advanced lifter should start wearing one.
Related Article - 10 Best Women's Lifting Belts
Why Is Wearing A Lifting Belt Important?
Different Types Of Lifting Belts
There are a few different types of weightlifting belts on the market, and it's important to get the one right for you. Your choice will depend on performance and comfort.
There are nylon/velcro belts that tend to be cheaper, and then there are leather belts with a lever. Apart from the difference in material and clasps, they come in different widths, thicknesses, and lengths.
Leather belts will tend to be bulkier and favored by powerlifters due to more support offered by a leather belt. If Olympic weightlifting is your thing, a nylon belt tends to serve better as they are not quite as bulky.
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Common Weightlifting Belt Questions
Who should not use a lifting belt?
Beginners who are learning how to squat and deadlift do not need to think about using a belt. When you are starting to squat above your own body weight and can deadlift around 1.5x your own body weight, it's good to start using one.
Those with high blood pressure or risk or history of hernia should not use a belt due to problems it could cause by using one.
Is it better to do squats with or without a belt?
This depends on the weight being lifted. Ideally, you don't want to rely on a belt, so the longer you can hold off, the better, as this will serve to strengthen your core and back.
Generally, once you start to go above 80% of your 1RM, then a belt can be considered. If someone has a very strong core and prefers the advantages of training without one, they may hold off using one until 90%+ of 1RM.
Does a weightlifting belt weaken your core?
Over-reliance on a weightlifting belt will mean your core isn't working as hard as it should be. While it isn't going to make it weaker, it won't be getting any stronger by using one all the time.
Core strength is important in the gym and in everyday life. By not using a belt, we are allowing our core to work more and get stronger. Compound movements such as squat and deadlift will work the core muscles, but any good strength program will always have isolated core exercises too.
How much more should you deadlift with a belt?
A lifting belt is not magically going to make you lift huge amounts of weights that wouldn’t be possible without a belt. You still need to be strong to lift big weights.
However, it is an aid that provides support that will help you to lift slightly more. ‘With a belt, you can either move 5-15% more weight for the same sets and reps, move the same weight for an extra 1-3 reps per set, or move the same weight for the same number of reps with less effort.’
How do you wear a weightlifting belt?
The key to wearing a belt is making sure you have one that fits correctly and is worn tightly when lifting. It should not uncomfortably dig into your sides.
When lifting, it should be comfortable in the fit but slightly uncomfortable in how tight it is. If it is not tight enough, there is no point in using one.
Learn More - How To Wear A Lifting Belt
Many people who strength train may question why use a lifting belt? It can be seen as cheating or it creates a weaker core.
Instead, a belt should be considered an aid that will enhance performance and improve bracing technique to help minimize injury risk. Not everyone needs one, but if you want to lift more, it will definitely help your numbers.
Last Updated on August 8, 2022
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